Sample text for Using what you got : a novel / Karen E. Quinones Miller.

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Chapter 1

Daddy, tell Tiara to get out the bathroom! I gotta pee!"

"Oh, shut up, Jo-Jo! You always gotta pee! You're such a little pain in the ass." Tiara carefully twirled the black eyebrow pencil just below the corner of her lips, making sure her new beauty mark was perfectly placed. Deciding it was barely noticeable against her smooth chocolate complexion, she gave it another twirl, pressing harder. She used the same pencil to outline her startling hazel eyes, then started moving her shoulders to the new Usher song. I look damn good, she thought. Better than them light, bright, and damn near white video ho's they're always having up BET. If they ever shoot a video over here at the Foster Projects, I know they'd spot me in the crowd and make me a star. 'Cause I got it like that. She snapped her finger at her image in the mirror, then ran her fingers through her long ebony weave, striking a couple of quick poses. How did the old song go? Five-five with brown eyes -- smile like the sunshine. Yeah, that's me. I'm the shit.


"Jo-Jo, shut the hell up, and wait until I get out," Tiara snapped.

"Daddy, Tiara's cursing in the house again!"

Ignoring her little sister, Tiara picked up the tweezers to pluck an errant hair on one of her otherwise perfectly arched eyebrows. She grimaced as the tweezers pinched her skin.

"Quit the noise, you big baby. You're making me mess my face up!" she shouted as she leaned over the sink to get closer to the mirror.

"Daddy, Tiara's calling me a baby again. Tell her to stop!" Jo-Jo started banging on the door again. "Let me in!"

Tiara rolled her eyes. God, she wished Daddy would hurry and buy a brownstone like he'd been talking about for years so she could have her own bathroom and her own room instead of having to share her space with Jo-Jo. Here she was, almost nineteen, and she had to put up with a twelve-year-old brat. Maybe she could even have her own floor in the new brownstone, maybe the basement level, so she could have her own entrance and everything. She'd miss all her friends here at the Foster, but after all, they could visit. And maybe she could talk her father into buying her a car for her next birthday, so she could cruise down to the projects whenever she got the urge. Yeah, she'd be real fly, cruising down Malcolm X Boulevard with the top down on her red convertible. A two-seater so a buncha people won't be trying to push up on my ride and shit.

"Daddy!" Jo-Jo hollered at the top of her lungs, while still banging and kicking at the door. "Daddy, make her let me in!"

Damn that girl, Tiara thought. Tiara snatched open the door, causing Jo-Jo to tumble in and onto the bathroom floor, and the heavy scent of Victoria's Secret Pear Glace Body Splash to rush out into the hall. "Okay, satisfied now? You're in. Now shut up."

"Creep." Josephine scowled at her sister then sat down on the edge of the bathtub. "That's why I can't stand you. Why do you have to put your makeup on in the bathroom, anyway?"

"'Cause the light's better in here, stupid." Tiara started stuffing makeup into her already bulging cosmetic bag. She took another quick look in the mirror, turning her head from side to side to make sure she looked good from all angles. Then she grabbed her CD player and headed down the hall to her bedroom. Just as she figured, Jo-Jo was right on her heels. The girl was taller than her by almost four inches, but she still wanted to follow Tiara like a puppy. A noisy -- and nosey -- puppy at that.

"I thought you had to pee." Tiara sat down in front of the gold- trimmed ivory-colored vanity and started brushing her European Straight weave with a wooden hairbrush.

"You made me wait so long I don't have to go anymore."

"Jo-Jo, why don't you admit you wanted to get in because you wanted to watch me make myself up?" Tiara teased. She reached over and straightened the snapshot of herself that she had stuck in the upper right-hand corner of the vanity mirror. She glanced at the collage of pictures of herself she had pasted on the wall, and made a mental note to add the snapshot. She also had to hang her new poster of Michelle from Destiny's Child to go along with the ones she already had posted of Aliyah, Ashanti, and Jay-Z. Another, slightly tattered wallet-sized photograph of a smiling, petite dark-skinned woman with dark hair flowing onto her shoulders fell from the mirror onto the dresser. Tiara looked at it with near disinterest. She might as well throw the picture out. It wasn't like she was ever going to see her mother again after all this time, anyway.

"Don't nobody wanna look at you." Jo-Jo plopped down on a twin bed covered with a blue quilted bedspread printed with images of basketball stars. Above her, on the wall, were posters of Mark Jackson, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, and Allen Iverson, along with pennant flags from the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets. She balled up a piece of paper lying on the pillow, and made a perfect shot into the tin wastepaper basket five feet away. She clasped her hands over her head and jiggled her shoulders. "She shoots. She scores. And the crowd goes wild!"

"Whatever." Tiara rolled her eyes. "Just don't be shooting your air balls on my side of the room. You still owe me for the perfume you knocked over last week."

"You shoulda had the top on tight." Jo-Jo plopped down on her stomach and started flipping through the pages of a Sports Illustrated.

"Yeah, uh huh. That's why you owe me twenty bucks for the perfume."

"Oh yeah, and you really think you're going to get it, huh? And it's not like you bought it outta your money anyway. Just get Daddy to give you the twenty bucks like you always do. You going out with Keith tonight?"

"Nope." Tiara walked over to the full-length mirror that hung on the back of the closet door and did a slow twirl, checking over her shoulder to make sure her butt looked nice and full in her size two Pepe jeans. Her black see-through shirt was unbuttoned down to her midriff, so that the purple camisole she wore underneath was framed almost in the shape of a valentine.


"That doofus? Puleeze."

"Why's he a doofus? I think he's cute."

"He's broke."

"Hmmph." Jo-Jo propped herself up on one elbow and looked at Tiara curiously. "So who are you going out with then?"

"Me and Shakira are going to Club New York, downtown. They're having a private party for some new rapper." She popped in Jay-Z's CD and started dancing in front of the mirror, making sure she could execute the Harlem Shake in her black stiletto heels. Yeah, she was on. "Ain't you gonna go to Shakira's little sister's party at the rec center tonight? I thought it was supposed to start at six. Ain't you late?"

"I ain't wanna go to Asia's dumb old party," Jo-Jo said sullenly.

Tiara stopped dancing and turned to look with disbelief at Jo-Jo, who was rapidly flipping through the magazine pages. "I know that little nut invited you, right? Y'all in the same class and everything, and me letting her old stuck-up sister hang out with me and shit, I just know she invited you."

"Yeah, I got invited. I just don't wanna go. The Knicks are playing tonight." Jo-Jo pushed aside the Sports Illustrated and eyed her older sister. "You look nice. But how you gonna get in? I thought they took your fake ID last week when you tried to get in that club in Brooklyn."

"I got another one, if you gotta know, Miss Nosey." Tiara moved back in front of the mirror. "You need to stop worrying about me and start taking your little butt outta this house sometime instead of always being holed up in front of the television watching some stupid basketball game."

Both girls turned as they heard two short taps on the door. "Are you two dressed?"

"Yeah. Come in, Daddy." Tiara straightened the spaghetti straps of her camisole under her blouse.

At six-foot-six, Reggie Bynum had to bow his head slightly to clear the doorway. He rubbed his neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. "Mmm, you're looking good, Princess. I can see you're planning on breaking some hearts tonight. Where are you heading all dolled up?" Not waiting for an answer, he strode over to Jo-Jo's bed and lightly swatted her on the head with the rolled-up newspaper he held in his hand. "Why you always gotta make such a racket, girl? People probably heard you all the way down the street, talking about you gotta go pee."

Jo-Jo scooted away from her father and folded her hands over her chest with a pout. "See that?" she said. "You heard me and you ain't even tell her to get out or anything? Man, you let Tiara do anything she wants."

"Oh, you going to go say she's my favorite again, huh, Little Girl?" He reached over and ruffled her shoulder-length braids, being careful not to get his thick gold-link bracelet caught in her hair.

"You know she is. She's a spoiled brat." Jo-Jo poked her lips out further.

"Oh, shut up," Tiara snapped.

"You shut up," Jo-Jo retorted.

Reggie grinned. "Oh, I guess since she's my favorite I'm going to ask her if she wants to go to the game tonight."

"What game?" Jo-Jo quickly sat up on the bed. "You got tickets to the Knicks game?"

"On the floor, Sport. We'll be so close you'll be able to smell their funky underarms." Reggie smiled. "Or we would be if I were taking you to the game."

"Ooh, Daddy, you're the best father in the world!" Jo-Jo grabbed him around the neck and kissed him loudly on the cheek.

"So, now, who do you think is my favorite?" Reggie said teasingly.

"Me!" Jo-Jo jumped up from the bed, ran over to the brown bureau on her side of the room, and started pulling out sweatshirts, athletic socks, and boxer shorts, and throwing them on the floor. "I've gotta find my Mark Jackson jersey."

"Hey, hey, Sport, you're making a mess!" Reggie said, kicking at the growing pile of clothes forming near the bed.

"Daddy, she's always making a mess. That's why I can't stand sharing a room with her." Tiara sat down on the bed next to her father and leaned her head on his shoulder, breathing in the subtle masculine scent of his Aramis aftershave. Reggie Bynum's job as a trash collector meant he was around garbage all day, but he was so meticulous in his hygiene -- showering three times a day -- you'd think he was a manager in the front office. There was a time when Tiara was ashamed to tell people that her father worked for the New York City Department of Sanitation, and she still didn't broadcast it, but she certainly wasn't too embarrassed. At least her daddy had a job, which was a lot more than many of her friends could say. Shoot, she used to comfort herself, Most of my friends barely even see their fathers, and then they gotta take a number 'cause of all the other kids he got all around the city. She and Jo-Jo were Reggie Bynum's only children, and he showered them with love and affection. A lot of other fathers would have tried to stick them on one of their grandmothers after their mother abandoned the family right after Jo-Jo was born. But not Reggie. He became superdad and supermom, even learning how to braid and cornrow to make sure his daughters looked good every time they stepped out of the house. Of course they looked even better when Tiara was old enough to take over hair duty, but Reggie had certainly done his best. He used to get old loudmouthed Aunt Charlie to come over and watch them while he worked, but as soon as Tiara was old enough, she put a stop to that too. All that scar-faced witch wanted to do was make everybody as miserable as she was. She acted like she wanted to punish the world because the left side of her face was all messed up from some car accident when she was a teenager. She had her good points -- number one that she could cook her butt off -- but it wasn't worth having to hear her mouth, day in and day out, about how Reggie spoiled the girls.

Tiara nuzzled her head further into Reggie's shoulder. And he was so handsome, too. With his dark-brown curly hair, light skin, and hazel eyes he had all the women vying for his attention. He had his little flings from time to time, but he never brought any of these dalliances home.

"Get off my bed, Tiara, since you don't want to share a room with me." Jo-Jo sucked her teeth as she continued to rummage through the bureau drawers.

"Why can't you two get along?" Reggie shook his head in exasperation.

"Because she's so immature, Daddy. That's why I need my own room. She's driving me crazy," Tiara said plaintively.

"I know you do, Princess. Soon as we move you both can have your own rooms." Reggie kissed Tiara on the top of her head. "Now where are you going looking all fine and stuff, and on a Wednesday, at that?"

"You think I look nice, Daddy? Me and Shakira got tickets to Showtime at the Apollo, so you know I gotta look nice, 'cause you know they gonna put the camera on me." Tiara jumped up and twirled around in front of her father, who whistled appreciatively. "Can't you just see me profiling up on TV? That's why I had to look real sharp. I just got these jeans today."

"Oh yeah?" Jo-Jo turned to face her. "So how much did they cost?"

Tiara turned around to threaten her sister, but remembered their father was in the room, so instead she went back and sat on the bed next to him. "Daddy, you see how she's always butting in my business?"

"Oh, please, you ain't fooling nobody. You just don't want Daddy to know your jeans cost a hundred dollars." Jo-Jo rolled her eyes.

"So what if they did?" Tiara snapped at her. "It ain't your hundred dollars, now is it?"

"Jo-Jo, leave your sister alone and get ready so we can leave." Reggie pushed Tiara away from him, then planted a kiss on her forehead before rising from the bed. "Did you get your African-American history test back from your teacher yet?"

"Yeah. That old skank gave me an eighty-five, but when I went over it I saw she marked one of my essay questions wrong."

"What was the question?"

"Who was Cassius Marcellus Clay, and what was his contribution to African-American history?"

"Muhammad Ali? That's an easy question," Reggie scooted a short distance away from his daughter and looked at her suspiciously. "What did you put down?"

"That he was a rich white man from Kentucky who freed his slaves and became an abolitionist."


"He was, Daddy," Tiara giggled. "Maybe if the teacher had asked who was Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., I would have said that he was the man who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali and was a three-time boxing heavyweight champion of the world, but she didn't put down junior."

"So you telling me Muhammad Ali was originally named after some white man?" Reggie chuckled as he rubbed his beard.

"No, he was named after his father. I guess his father was named after the white man," Tiara grinned. "He was one tough white man, though. One time he was giving an anti-slavery speech and some dude pulled out a gun and shot him in the chest. He jumped down from the stage, pulled out his Bowie knife, and cut off the guy's nose and one of his ears."

"Damn!" Reggie threw his head back and gave a hearty laugh.

"So, anyway, I challenged her on it, and I wound up with a ninety-five on the test." Tiara tossed her head. "So I'm pulling a solid 'A' in the class. I should make it to the president's list again this semester."

"Good for you, Princess. But don't be going around calling your teachers skanks. They gotta be pretty smart to be teaching up in college. Show some respect."

"Daddy, can I have some money to go downtown to the movies after the show is over?" Tiara said in a little-girl voice. She glanced out of the corner of her eye to make sure Jo-Jo wasn't going to open her mouth about Club New York, but Jo-Jo had slipped behind the closet door to change into a sweat suit.

"Sure, Princess." Reggie reached inside his pants pocket and took out his wallet. "Will thirty dollars be enough?"

"Well," Tiara hesitated. "I guess I can make do with that."

"Oh, you can only make do on thirty dollars, huh?" Reggie laughed. "And just how much would it take for you to have a really good time?"

"Um, could I get fifty dollars?" Tiara said hopefully.

"Yeah, but don't be trying to hit me up for any more money this weekend, hear?" Reggie slipped two twenties and two five dollar bills from his wallet. "Now, remember what I've always told you. You can go out there looking like that, and all the men are going to be looking. And they should, because you're looking damn good. You can make them look, but you better not let them touch, okay?"

"Okay, Daddy," Tiara gave her automatic response to her father's habitual lecture.

"Okay, because you're too damn good for most of these knuckleheads out here," Reggie said in a more gentle tone. "I raised me a thoroughbred, baby. You don't wanna be messing with none of these broke Negroes out here. You want someone who can do something for you, right?"

"Right, Daddy." Tiara resisted the urge to glance at her watch.

"And don't forget, you're a Bynum girl, and that means these knuckleheads better act like they know when they get around you -- "

"I won't forget, Daddy. I promise." Tiara kissed him on the cheek, slipping the money from his grasp. She then jumped up and ran to the closet, pulling the door open and exposing Jo-Jo just as she was pulling her sweat pants on over her basketball shorts.

"Dang, Tiara, I'm trying to get dressed!" Jo-Jo hit Tiara on the shoulder.

"Oh, please. You ain't got nothing nobody wants to see." Tiara pulled a waist-length black suede jacket off a hanger and quickly slipped it on. "Okay, I'm outta here, folks." She already had twenty dollars, but now that she had another fifty, she was going to stop and get some Alize and pick up a bag of weed so she and Shakira could be feeling nice by the time they got to the club.

"So early?" Reggie looked at his watch. "It's not even seven o'clock."

"The show starts at eight, Daddy." She kissed him on the cheek, and turned to head out the door, but her father grabbed her hand.

"How late you going to be out? I don't want you late for classes or anything."

"Daddy, my classes don't start until eleven-thirty on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You know that." Tiara turned to go.

"Well, just hold up for a minute, Hon. Jo-Jo and I are going to grab a cab down to Madison Square Garden. We'll drop you off," Reggie stood up, still holding on to her hand.

"No, that's okay, Daddy. I gotta pick up Shakira." Tiara was trying to think fast. Shakira had a big mouth, and she didn't want her to slip up and let Reggie know that they were going to try to get into Club New York. Her father was pretty lenient, but he did draw the line at letting his eighteen-year-old sneak into downtown clubs with a fake ID.

"Not a problem. I don't mind stopping for Shakira." Reggie pulled Tiara to him and put his arm around her shoulders, planting a kiss on the top of her head.

"Aw, Daddy, the Apollo's not on our way to the Garden," Jo-Jo whined. "And you know how slow Shakira is. We're going to miss tip-off if we gotta wait on her."

"Yeah, Daddy," Tiara said soothingly. "You know how Shakira is. You guys go ahead, don't let us mess up your evening waiting on that slow child."

"You sure? I really don't mind..."

"Daddy, I mind!" Jo-Jo stamped her foot. "I want to get to the Garden early enough to get some of the good souvenirs."

"All right, all right!" Reggie grinned and shrugged his shoulders. "Just be careful out there, okay?"

"Don't worry, Daddy." Tiara kissed her father's cheek again and headed out the door, but not before mouthing "Thanks" to Jo-Jo, who simply winked back and rubbed her fingers together signaling that she expected payment for her assistance. She was going to have to slip Jo-Jo a couple of bucks for her help, but it was well worth it.

"Okay," Tiara said as she stepped out the front door. "Time to get my party on."

Copyright © 2003 by Karen E. Quinones Miller

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
African American women -- Fiction.